Gender issues are in flux in America. As our society alters its perspective on women’s roles, as well as its understanding of issues like homosexuality, so does it rethink friendships between men. Here in Salem, conversation on male friendship will be jump-started at the next Progressive Film Series event with the documentary “fivefriends” and three speakers. Participants will learn that though inroads towards ease have been made, the topic is still touchy.
Hank Mandel is a lean, successful 65-year-old New England man, a married heterosexual husband and dad, who has many long-term tmale friendships that are vital to him. “I think there’s a sympathy for the deep currents that run through our lives,” says Barry, an artist friend of Hank’s. This is one of Hank’s five closest male friendships that are examined in the film. Barry and Hank talk long hours and go shopping together, unembarrassed to say “That looks fantastic on you!” when one tries on a leather jacket. Hank, who is a Jew, is also friends with an African-American Baptist with whom he walks; Bob, a businessman with whom he travels and cooks, and Scott, a fellow New York Giants fan. Hank’s friendships survive geographic moves, job changes, divorce and remarriage.
But these relationships are not typical. Despite films such as I Love You, Man, and prominent articles about “man dates,” Hank’s deep bonds with other men are far from the norm, even now. Kelley Strawn, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Willamette University, will speak after the film. He discussed with Salem Weekly how culture encourages men to be cautious about intimacy, no matter how “sensitively” they have been raised. “I arrived at… young-adulthood with a fairly high degree of discomfort with emotional intimacy and vulnerability in male-male friendships.” Jade Aguilar, another Assistant Professor of Sociology at Willamette agrees. “…As society increasingly started linking homosexual behavior with a homosexual identity, and then demonized that identity, men who created and maintained close friendships with one another became increasingly at risk of being labeled “gay” and had to deal with all the negative sanctions that came with that label.”The film presents insights in cut-aways to Michael Kimmel, a prominent sociologist and Alan Frow, a Southern California pastor, both of whom discuss the forms male-male uneasiness can take, especially the unwillingness to risk trust.
For those who believe that, intimate male friendships are an ideal society should strive for, this Progressive Film Series evening provides a pulse-taking of the United States at this moment in history. Tim Buckley, Salem-based writer and communication consultant with extensive experience leading men’s groups, will also be on hand to discuss the challenges of men sharing experiences, especially for many who are incarcerated.
When asked about the benefits of male friendships, Aguilar told Salem Weekly, “There are so many. I think all friendships are linked to higher rates of emotional and physical health. Having a close friend of the same gender is also beneficial because they have navigated similar social terrain and experiences.”
Strawn concluded our conversation saying, “We are, most likely, much more open about male-male relationships in the 2000-teens than we were in the 1980s. But we are also probably a long, long way from a wholesale change in how we define “maleness” in our society…. As a life-partner to my spouse, I would like to be free of the burdens of “socialized maleness,” and discussions like the one on March 8 are steps in that process. “